187:  The Villains Among Us

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

Thousands ’scaped death from the blow that never came.

Next, dozens were examined in London and in the countrie where the plotters fled, lest any should ’scape justice.

A great Catlick earl was sent to the Tower.  (He was no friend to my lord, so we weren’t sorry.)

A great Catlick Earl: Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland (1564-1634).  Although married to the Earl of Essex’s sister Dorothy, he’d distanced himself from the Essex circle, which might explain why Harry describes him as ‘no friend.’

I prayed some honest person had found my letter against Snakes-Purr and carried it to the King’s Council.  I kept my ears pricked for word of a player taken for questioning.

Sure, Snakes-Purr would deny knowledge of the plot.  In truth, I had no reason to believe he did.  My lady mother had named him thief, not plotter.

So when I writ my letter I chose my words right well.  I accused him of slandering Scots.  No more than that.  I guessed it would be enuff to send him to a stinking prison for the lower sort.

A portrait of a full-faced, balding man that is accepted as one of William Shakespeare because of the facial reseblance to his funeral monument and the engraving made for the First Folio.
Snakes-Purr: not a plotter.  Harry’s right about that.  He preferred to take his plots and storylines from other writers, and make his own embellishments.

One day I heard a word that joyed me.  Cozen!  Sure, that meant Snakes-Purr.  Had he not cozened [cheated] my mother, our poet-uncle’s heir and executrix, out of all that was her own?

But no.  This cozen [cousin] was my lord’s.  His name was Montacute.  I was not akwaynt with him, but I soon learnt that there was no ’cuteness in him.

A year past, he had shamed us by speaking hot Catlick words in parlement.  He was emprisoned, but later freed.

Now ’twas known he’d sent word that he could not attend parlement on the day fixed for the blow.  Worser, the first plotter taken, a man named Fox (Fawkes), had once been employed in his household.

So Cousin Montacute was in the Tower, where I hoped the Whisperers would torment him as they’d tormented me.

One more thing I learnt of him.  He had writ a little book.

I have not seen his book, nor would I wish to.  Its matter were the management of his household. Is that a proper thing for a lord to write?  I think not.  I shall say more of this book when I have paper enuff to so do.

Next, I heard tell of a letter that had been thrown into the court [courtyard] of Sir Rabbit’s house.  How my heart leapt!

Alas, that letter was no more than a promise to kill Sir Rabbit because he blamed all Catlicks for the treason of a few.  A lie writ by a mad man. 

Had not the King hisself forbid the blaming of all Catlicks?  And would Sir Rabbit cross him?  I think not.

Then came the newes I longed for.  I heard it from a cat who was gathering newes.  After I told him of Cousin Montacute (for which he thanked me) he told me a maker of plays was helping Mr Secretary with his enkwiries.

Musick to mine ears.  But that was all the informations he could give me.

I bethought me of the player cat that spake of Snakes-Purr and the witch play when last I went to Paws’ yard.  He might know more, but how would I find him?

Then I thought of Onix, who was my mother’s friend.  I would have to make my way to the gardens nigh unto the river in hopes of seeing him there.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorHarry is doing well to stay focused on his mission of revenge in the 1605/1606 post-Gunpowder Plot environment.  The gossip networks must have been in overdrive. 

The first official communication came on 10 November from the pulpits – the easiest way to tell the general public what it ought to know. Then a publication, usually referred to as ‘The King’s Book’, was rushed into print.  It contained a version of King James’ speech to parliament, an account of how the plot was discovered, the confessions (carefully edited?) of Guy/Guido Fawkes and Thomas Winter, and an account of the capture of the other conspirators.

There were also other communications:  reports of disrespectful comments and/or suspicious behaviour; anonymous letters dropped in streets, shops, and other public places.

It’s not surprising that one such letter attacked Robert Cecil.  He was still hated for his part in the Earl of Essex’s downfall.  As far as I know, there’s no evidence that he used the Gunpowder Plot as a reason for persecuting Catholics.  Apart, that is, from the Jesuit priests and their leader in England, Father Henry Garnet, who’d been sought for years.

King James was hostile to the Jesuit missionaries, too.  He was prepared to tolerate conformist Catholics, but he didn’t like recent converts or the priests who converted them.

This last docudrama Gunpowder 5/11: The Greatest Terror Plot takes its script mostly from Winter’s confession, and brings the core plotters alive as people.  Ruthless people to be sure, but disconcertingly human.

It also explains why Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland, who was fined £30,000, spent the next 16 years in the Tower.  Well, sort of.  Other than his relationship to plotter Thomas Percy there was no evidence against him.  And he hadn’t excused himself from parliament on 5 November, unlike Southampton’s embarrassing cousin and two other Catholic lords.

Harry will have more to say of Cousin Montague/Montacute and his improper little book.

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